Monday, 18 May 2009

The Great Escape @ Brighton - Day 1

With not a campsite or drop of mud in sight and over three hundred bands playing in over thirty venues over three days, The Great Escape is the ideal festival for music fans whose idea of a weekend without a shower is absolute hell. Now in its fourth year, the Brighton event goes from strength to strength with punters being able to see a number of established acts as well as a host of up and coming bands around the city, for a fraction of the price of a huge outdoor festival. Inevitably some of the more hotly tipped artists will draw full houses and some people will be left standing in queues if the particular venue is at capacity, but Breaking More Waves encounters none of these problems with the bands it sees. Careful planning is the key word here.

Thursday starts with a busy lunchtime gig at Arc on the seafront. Sporting one of the finest beards in folk music William Fitzsimmons talks about how he has “A terrorist looking face,” which led to detainment at Stansted airport on his arrival to the UK. Seated under a single spotlight, Fitzsimmons brings harshly intimate lyrics and gentle sounding acoustic songs concerning divorce, death and his troubled relationship with his father to a hushed audience. “The only goal I have is to make you feel worse about yourselves than when you arrived,” Fitzsimmons half jokes. With his soft easy on the ear Sufjan Stevens styled vocal ,the overall sound created lacks the deep emotional resonance to achieve this goal no matter how bleak the subject material.

For a contrary musical perspective, a short walk to The Hope finds Vile Imbeciles, who bombard the small crowd with a jerky stumbling freeform frenetic brand of guitar noise and Horrors like goth haircuts, tattered jeans and jackets. It’s an ugly cacophony that disregards melody completely and tries to rape the audience via an uneasy listening experience. Ears bleed. Perversely we like it and don’t bother finding the music doctor or police.

The long mirrors, domed roof lights and bohemian feel of the Red Roaster coffee house is almost the perfect space for acoustic music and Charlie Calleja does a sterling job in bringing his classic singer songwriter style to the small seated audience of about thirty people. With a creamy voice that soars effortlessly and a red wine warmth that calms, his honest songs are the perfect end to that first compilation mix tape for a new girlfriend.

Continuing at the same venue, Dan Mangan is even better. The moment he opens his mouth and huskily croons his way through The Indie Queens Are Waiting, we are smitten. With a roll of throat that could have come from a pirate ship, Mangan is the missing link between Damien Rice and Mumford & Sons. With an admission that he once fell asleep at a Mudhoney concert, Journal Of A Narcoleptic is finely framed and precisely played. To finish, even though the room is half empty Mangan is brave enough to leave the stage area to stand on a piano stool and conduct the audience to sing the simple melody of Robots; “Robots need love too. They want to be loved by you.” Everyone joins in. You know when those in the media like to proclaim that “That was a real moment,” at every opportunity at every festival they cover ? Well this really was one of those moments.

Our love of Laura Groves aka Blue Roses is already well documented on this blog and it appears that this love is not alone, with swelling numbers of punters coming through the door. Blue Roses is virtually perfect in every way, from her choir girl vocal to her complex piano work. Even the moment when she pauses during Coast and someone’s mobile rings seems impeccably timed, although of course it gets a large round of laughter. Doubtful Comforts is the highlight, a ghost walk through loneliness, it’s a song from another time, unique in its music box late night ambience.

Leaving the Red Roaster with a delicious warm and fuzzy feel it is time for a change of mood and instrumentation as The Sallis Benney Theatre plays host to Brighton band Mirrors (pictured), who we first posted about last month here . Mirrors are ostentatiously lofty and uber cool. Brooding ghoulish gothic church music echoes through the room and like a scene from Poltergeist a huge screen at the back crackles into life. We almost expect a small child to cry out “They’re here,” as the band take to the stage. Dressed in matching suits and ties Mirrors line up in front of keyboards and an electronic drum kit, two members stage front, two slightly staggered behind. They stand motionless, arms by their side in darkness except for a flashing strobe fixed to their electronica. Then they start to play, lit only by the colourful abstract films behind them. Their references are Kraftwerk, New Order and most notably OMD in both their sound and look. Artily pretentious, highbrow and executed with perfection it seems amazing that this is a new band, so complete is everything about them. Each year names are touted as the next big thing. Mirrors may just be a little too cool to appeal to the mainstream, and there is a nagging doubt that their obvious pomposity may be their undoing, but their synth laden brand of pop noir may be a good sneaky outside bet for a One To Watch in 2010.

After such a run of highs, the evening finishes with a low. Grasscut are Andrew Phillips an award winning televison film and television composer and Marcus O’Dair who adds additional double bass to their experimental electronic sound. Playing to an ever dwindling audience, one person in the room says “They’re like a rubbish Enigma.” Whilst their work may be more abstract and nerdy than that, he’s not far off.

Day One is done. But rather than trudging through mud to a tent where drunkards will regularly wake us by tripping over our guy ropes all night, Breaking More Waves heads off to a warm inviting bed in a decent hotel and the promise of no queue for a shower in the morning.


emmdee said...

What I want to know is why nobody thought of doing this when I lived in Brighton...

Robin said...

They did. But they wanted to make sure that you weren't around, so they waited till you left :) Ha ha. Anyway, at least you can say that you went to one of the original Camden Crawls which is a similar event, although back in the day Camden Crawl was by all accounts a much easier more managable event than it is now, with its big queues and bad planning. The Great Escape is (in Breaking More Waves opinion) a far better event (and half the price if you get an early bird ticket!)

emmdee said...

Very droll.

I just realised I meant to send you this link about some Finnish bands playing there ... but a bit late now. Never mind.